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8/1/2013
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Gmail Tabs: 7 Tips For Business Communications

Google's new default tabs and its own embedded advertising emails could make it harder than ever for businesses to get their external messages across. Here's what you need to know.

Google Apps To Microsoft Office 365: 10 Lessons
Google Apps To Microsoft Office 365: 10 Lessons
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One of the first appearances of Google's new Gmail ads in my inbox was a wonderful marriage of old world and new: Publishers Clearinghouse invited me to "Enter to Win $5,000 a Week 'Forever'!"

(I'm not sure why "forever" was in quotes, nor am I holding my breath waiting for the Prize Patrol to knock on my front door, but I digress.)

What I found remarkable from a business standpoint was how long it took for me to see my first ad given that I seem to have Gmail open, on one screen or another, for 10 to 12 hours a day. That's because I've already become desensitized to the new tabs included by default in Gmail's updated interface -- in this particular case, the Promotions tab. I've also got the default Social tab and recently added the Updates tab for testing purposes.

[ One user's love and loathing of Gmail tabs: Gmail Inbox Update: Hopes And Fears. ]

I've actually begun to like the new tabs, which caught me by surprise. I anticipate that I'll need to tweak my settings as time goes on, but at the moment I'm content to more or less watch how the defaults work. They automatically slim down the daily inbox without needing to create and manage custom filters or adjust other settings. (I should note that much of my experience outlined here is based on laptop-and-Web use, rather than smartphone or tablet clients. Your results may vary.)

When I did recently remember to take a peek behind the Promotions tab, a few things jumped out at me that seem critical for any organization that sends email to customers, prospects, and other external groups.

First, these messages are much easier for Gmail users to ignore for days at a time without any filtering or other user action. Second, businesses that send email to external lists are now effectively competing with Google for Gmail users' attention because of Google's new email-like ad format. Third, the tabs work -- perhaps a little too well for the tastes of marketers and other business interests – as a means of diverting certain types of messages to these secondary inboxes.

I can't recall a single notification from the likes of Twitter, Quora or LinkedIn that hasn't been snagged by the Social tab, for instance. Just about any mass-blast marketing email I'm signed up for (and some I'm fairly sure I never signed up for) end up in Promotions. Since adding the Updates tab, I don't think I've seen a single email sent by an organization (rather than an individual) land in my primary inbox.

Which, if you're one of those organizations, is kind of a big deal. Gmail's tabs might be good for some users. If they stick, you'll know that means they're good for Google. But what about businesses that send email to external lists? It's hard enough to stand out in a crowded inbox without being assigned to second class.

I asked Gail Goodman, CEO of Constant Contact, for her take -- the online marketing firm has been doing email since the first dot-com boom. She stressed that it's too soon for anyone to say with certainty how Gmail's tabbed interface will impact businesses. Which is, in fact, lesson number one.

1. Don't Freak Out.

"We're in the very early innings of understanding the new Gmail tabs metaphor and how that's going to impact consumer behavior," Goodman said in an interview. Most Gmail users have only recently seen the new interface and are just now getting used to it -- or turning it off, in some cases. Google, too, is going to watch closely and likely make its own tweaks based on behavior and feedback, Goodman said. So don't rush out and make wholesale changes to your outbound email strategy just yet. "I don't think we're at a steady-state understanding yet," Goodman said.

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